Harry's right eye twitched and watered from the sudden searing pain and the rush of emptiness that flooded his head. He felt his knees buckle from his legs losing their strength to keep him standing and tripped onto his bedroom floor with his palms slamming painfully onto the ground — how did he get from the bed to the other side of the room…?
"Boy! Enough with the racket or I'll make you sleep in the shed tonight!" hollered Uncle Vernon from his room.
Harry ignored the faint mutterings coming through his closed door and pressed his palm against his scar and right eye — both felt like someone had driven a white-hot fork through them. He rubbed viciously against his scar and clasped his other hand onto his bedsheets as he brought himself to his feet gingerly as if he might fall over again.
He never felt or seen anything like this before in his dreams at all, not even the nightmares that he had back at Hogwarts. Those were just broken pieces from whatever he'd see in the day prior, all meshed together to form a disordered dream, but this was nothing like that. What he remembered was so real: what could he remember?
Harry thought long and hard whilst climbing back into his bed to catch the slipping nightmare from disappearing forever. He was walking through somewhere… a place he had never been to before… his hands were white and withering away slowly, and his clothes were all black… Harry groaned — his scar was still prickling a little — and threw his head back onto his pillow with his cold hands cooling his burning face.
'I was walking through someplace, and I saw pictures… posters of people… boys… why was I looking at them…? Two, no, three men laughing and drinking… I fell and they laughed even more until one took an axe and… then I couldn't feel anything and I was flying away… my head…'
And the cold, high voice that sounded so weak which somehow came from his own mouth. Harry knew that it was so familiar, knew that it was a voice that he came to hate, almost fear even. Almost fear. That was funny. Harry didn't know what to make of it. So real… so, so real…
The light tapping against glass caught Harry's attention from his bedroom window, and Hedwig was flapping her wings gracefully in midair with her feathers nearly glowing from the moonlight. Harry reached for his glasses that fell somewhere near his wardrobe and walked over to the window to let the owl in and grabbed the letter attached to her leg.
Sirius was becoming quicker in his replies, this time only taking three days to write back. Harry was glad to see that he was recovering little by little but couldn't help wanting him to be perfectly well the next day. He had never felt more trapped before in his life which was the last sensation he thought he'd feel after living under the stairs for so long.
As he swung Hedwig's cage open for her, he slapped the envelope against his palm anticipating what could be written inside. Did he want to talk more about the trial: that was more or less how most of their conversations went. School, St Mungo's, Lupin, his dad, Theodore — Harry stopped moving his hand. He had almost forgotten what he told Theodore about his dreams; he was the only person who knew. Not even Dumbledore did.
"I should tell Theo about it, but what about Dumbledore?" he muttered to himself as he placed Sirius's letter on the table. "He knows everything about this 'thing' I have with Voldemort… Theo probably knows as well, I couldn't imagine him being clueless about this after what happened in the first year. I'll write to him first, Hedwig, then —"
Hedwig suddenly screeched and flailed her wings against the bars, forcing Harry to nearly jump over to her with his bedsheets thrown over her cage. "Hedwig, you're going to get me into trouble if you don't —!"
Harry almost flinched upon hearing his door nearly being pummelled from the vicious knocking on the other side as Uncle Vernon bellowed, "What did I say about making noise?! Do you want me to kick you out like last summer?!"
"Last time I checked, I left because I wanted to…"
"What was that?!"
"Nothing!" Harry tapped against the cage to check if Hedwig had calmed down from whatever set her off. "It's just my owl, she got scared for some reason."
"Keep her quiet, then! Your cousin, aunt and I are leaving for London, so we need to sleep! If I hear it flapping or screeching, I'll turn it into a barbecue!"
Uncle Vernon's heavy footsteps crunched against the floorboard and were masked from his own door closing as Harry grabbed the bedsheets off of the cage to frown at the Snowy Owl. "What's wrong with you? This is the third time you've done this!"
Hedwig twisted her neck towards the window and cooed quietly that Uncle Vernon couldn't possibly hear her. Harry moved the curtains away from each other slightly and peered through the gap to stare at the identical houses that belonged to his neighbours, all neat, perfect and boorish. Nothing struck him as abnormal, not even the tabby cat in the distance: must've been one of Mrs Figg's.
Harry gritted his teeth for yet again, his scar twinged with sharp pain. And suddenly, it caught up to him. For some reason, he didn't feel safe at all. No, he never once felt at home here at the Dursleys for even just a minute. Little Whinging was an area he'd gladly never visit again. But this time, he felt vulnerable, naked and cold. He couldn't understand it, but he wanted somebody to come take him from this place. Dumbledore, Theodore, the Weasleys, anyone who cared because he didn't feel at home. He felt even more constricted, more powerless as with every second that passed by so slowly, he stared straight out of his window without blinking, wondering if Voldemort was staring straight back at him.
Theodore couldn't help but smile or laugh as the following days passed by from his arrival. Every single moment was so memorable, and every single moment had bested all the days he spent during the summer at Stuggle's; the days with Louise were the only exceptions. The Weasleys were more than kind to him: if Theodore didn't know any better he'd think that they thought of him as part of the family.
It would be Mr Weasley asking him a plethora of excitable questions regarding anything Muggle-related; Mrs Weasley would ask him what his favourite meal was every day; Bill and Charlie telling him story after story about their time at Hogwarts, and Ron, Ginny, Fred and George just always being around him. Even Percy was much more talkative these days: Theodore suspected that he felt a little guilty about Viripin. Every single one of them would take a part of his day and he didn't mind at all. Why would he? Harry would be coming soon to join everyone, and Hermione… well…
"Isn't it Harry's birthday today?" asked Viripin from the sleeping bag as she watched Theodore returning to Ron's room, eyes curtained by his damp hair.
Theodore combed his hair back with his fingers and replied, "Yep. Mr Weasley said that he's going to surprise him by picking him up from the Dursleys. It's about time, don't you think? They're starving him over there…"
"Harry was always on the thin side. I'm sure that he'll get fattened up nicely when he gets here. Did you get him a present?" Theodore stuck his hand through an unzipped hole of his trunk, carefully pulled out the inactive Golden Snitch and held it in front of the Maibian Adder. "I thought that you're not supposed to give birthday presents back, especially after not taking care of them."
"It's not the Snitch Harry gave to me, Viripin. I grabbed this from my mum's house in Harry's dad's old room," said Theodore, slipping it into his pocket. "I don't have any money, remember?"
"I know, I know. Your mother's inheritance is still out there somewhere waiting for you. Oh well, it's not about the money anyway. I'm sure he'll love it."
Theodore thanked the serpent and opened up the window for her and Sawer to go find any mice that would be scuttling in the garden. After giving the owl a shove through the window-gap as he became a little excitable and had gotten stuck, Viripin then slipped through and disappeared over the wheat fields as an eagle with Sawer trailing behind her.
Deciding that drying his hair was not all that important, Theodore changed himself quickly and left Ron's room for downstairs, being careful not to overstep on the zany stairway before reaching the ground floor. It didn't take much to convince Mrs Weasley to allow the teens to go to the Muggle village of Ottery St Catchpole, although Theodore and Hermione did most of the talking. Ever since she said yes, Theodore had been wondering if the ice cream Hermione was talking about was any good… A reoccurring thought that he just couldn't get rid of.
Theodore jumped into the kitchen expecting everybody to be there but was met with the eyes of Mrs Weasley alone with pots and pans flying above her head. This was unexpected. "Mrs Weasley," said the Parselmouth, a little confused, "where's everyone else —?"
"Oh dear! I thought you already left — oh wait. Had to get rid of the Gnome Putty from Fred and George, didn't you? Here, let me see." Mrs Weasley reached out for the boy and narrowly ducked under a zooming pan before she checked thoroughly through his damp hair. "Perfect. Now hurry along, they're all fast walkers. You'll probably have to run to catch up."
"Thanks, Mrs Weasley!"
"And Theodore? You wouldn't mind if I cut your hair a little short, you know, for the trial? You'll want to look your best," Mrs Weasley called out the moment Theodore almost closed the front door.
"Umm… no, I don't mind. I have to…" Mrs Weasley quickly said goodbye, and Theodore closed the door behind him, found his balance after nearly tripping over the pile of boots near the door and ran across the garden along the dirt-road pathway towards St Catchpole where the others would surely be heading to.
"…he'll get here soon, stop being such a child, Ron."
"You're the one who's being a child! If you hadn't put that stuff in his hair, we would've been there by now!"
"Oh, stop it, both of you! Look, Theodore's already here, he's running to us now."
In the distance just before the wheat field ended by a wooden fence with barbed wiring and a broken gate were Fred, George, Ron, Ginny and Hermione standing just beyond the gate apparently waiting for Theodore.
"Thanks… for waiting guys, I really appreciate it," puffed Theodore sarcastically, holding the area of scaring on his chest for it started to feel tighter.
"Sorry about the Gnome Putty, Theo. We didn't know it would stick so well to your hair."
"Another product sadly discontinued," Fred 'wept' with two hands on his heart. "Oh well, we've still got loads in the making. Just give us a warning when you're in our vicinity."
"If anything, you should be giving us the warnings," frowned Ginny. "Aren't we going now? Mum could see us from the top bedroom window if she'd like. She'll make us come back if we aren't doing anything."
"True, true. All right, onwards, children!" Fred commanded, marching alongside George down the concrete path that was diverged from a road surely leading to the town.
The road winded and turned and would sometimes vanish from afar due to the numerous hills and open fields that surrounded the area. Theodore could barely see any other houses that were close by, although he wasn't surprised by this: the Weasleys were probably as far from any nearby Muggles as they possibly could. He could only catch glimpses of two farms and a weirdly shaped rock that could've been a house for all he knew. But what did he know? He had never been to the countryside before in his life if not counting going to Hogwarts.
"Car!" shouted Ron from the back. Everyone divided onto either side of the road and allowed a small blue car to pass by with the driver staring oddly at all of them before speeding off quickly. "Weird. We don't look that odd, do we?"
"I think it's mostly to do with the fact that we're just random kids walking up a road," said Hermione after everyone resumed walking up north. "Nobody really lives near here though, do they?"
"There's this crazy story about a fisherman who found refuge underneath the ground. Something to do with having so many tunnels dug in the ground that he's called Wormy."
"Yeah, you know how Muggles are with their crazy stories. Princess and the Frog? Since when does kissing a frog turn him human? How does that work?"
"Umm, magic?" Theodore said with half a smile and a raised eyebrow. Ron scoffed and shook his head, muttering how that sounded ridiculous. Theodore ducked his head a little next to Hermione's and whispered, "Is it me or is Ron secretly starting to take an interest in Muggle culture?"
"You just noticed?"
The two both moved to the side of the road when a large van passed by and walked back on as Theodore whispered back, "Well, he has a few things in his room like toys and stuff, but I didn't realise until recently. He's even got a book collection. I know about all the fairytales, but there was this one weird book that I never have seen before. It was called My Immortal or something like that."
Hermione grimaced a little and gave him a pitying look. "You really read that book?"
"I couldn't even get past the first chapter," shuddered the Parselmouth. "Ron told me that it was one of his mum's 'romance' stories, buuut…"
A grin grew on Hermione's face as she glanced quickly at the unsuspecting Ron. Theodore looked over at her to see her resisting a laugh from escaping and felt his mouth forming its own smile as well; he found her attempts to stop herself from giggling adorable. He didn't even think that what he said was all that funny — not that he cared.
After ten minutes of trekking along the now empty road, the teens then finally arrived at a river that passed by several houses next to the riverbank, and the road joined to the bridge above the water beneath which carried on forwards to a town Theodore could only have ever seen in primary school books.
Theodore trailed a little behind as the last one of the group as they walked further into the town that felt a little clumped to him. Houses were squashed together around the bends of the roads, small shops just sticking out from the corners as well. Everything felt as if they were on a single large hill with every building being slanted just a bit. This was definitely different from Lambeth, almost every detail of it.
The first place they stopped by was the ice cream shop that Hermione mentioned, a shop seemingly bare of customers save for an elderly woman and her granddaughter. Everyone picked out his or her combinations of scoops for themselves — Theodore was a little irked when he was reminded that this was a Muggle shop with no 'Sweet Caramel Pumpkin' — with Hermione and Ginny paying for them.
"We're the eldest ones here," complained Fred, "but she doesn't trust us with money! What's gotten into Mum's head recently?"
"It's the prefect thing, I'm telling you. She's just mad that we broke the 'perfect' tradition of Weasley Prefects. It's absurd!"
They all sat around a squeaky, silver round table in a booth at the corner of the shop, licking away at their cones while the Twins rambled on about their dispute with their mother. Theodore was sat in between George and Ginny, enjoying his ice cream at the same time getting flashes of the previous summer at Diagon Alley going through his mind whenever he'd look up to see Hermione opposite to him. When he told her that Sirius nearly killed him and she held his hands whilst looking at him with so much worry in her eyes…
"Shit," he muttered when he felt his nose suddenly grow cold. Theodore used his sleeve and rubbed the tip of his nose before he returned to eating his ice cream, still unable to stop himself from thinking about last year. 'All right, you like her, you idiot, we get it. Stop staring at her before it gets weird.'
"Theo, you've got something on your nose," pointed out Hermione. Theodore viciously rubbed his nose until he felt it sting just a little and looked up at her to get a look of confirmation. She nodded just a little and held in a smile after taking a glance at his nose before she turned to talk to Ron.
Looking down at his reflection in the table, a distorted image of himself had a reddened nose that almost made him look as if he were blushing. Theodore sniffed and ignored it, turning over to Ginny who snorted after taking one look. "It's not that funny, Ginny."
"Whatever you say, Theo," she teased.
After every cone had been devoured, the six teens then left the parlour and decided to take a walk through the town; they finally saw the first sign of more people actually living in the area crowding around a large octagonal fountain made out of marble with a wooden stage mounted in the air. A magician with a soggy-looking face was the centre of attention, bellowing incoherent phrases with cards in his hands.
"You know, they're quite impressive with their tricks," said Ron in Theodore's ear after applauding the magician when he turned the stack of cards into multicoloured paper aeroplanes. "Wouldn't be surprised if this guy was an actual wizard himself."
"Don't be daft," mocked a woman in front of them with her nose upturned.
Ron scowled at her and whispered to Theodore, "If only we could do magic when we wanted to. I'd blow this crowd away with a snap of my fingers."
"That's still illegal, isn't it?"
"It's just a thought. Hey, look! He's pointing at us! Do you think he wants us to come up?"
Theodore quickly stepped behind Ron and gave him a light shove to which Ron walked heavily over to the stage, shuddering. Rather Ron than him, he wouldn't want anything to do with street magic after doing the real deal.
"Gamboo gave me some of his stuff, guys, look!" effused Ron as he dug through a bag of plastic wands, rings, hats and all other trick items after the performance was over. "This stuff all looks so weird…"
"Careful there, Ronny, you're starting to sound a little bit like Dad now," said Fred as he took a look over Ron's shoulder in the bag. "You've seen real magical prank items in the flesh, even been a victim to a few. How does this excite you, Ron?"
"I think it's cool how Muggles can do all of this stuff. They're getting on pretty well without magic. And so what if I sound like Dad? I'm not going to make these flowers fly or anything."
Fred plucked a plastic wand from the bag and looked at it confusingly. "Who remembers when Dad brought something like this home? Mum thought that it was a weird candle."
Ron snatched it back and stuffed it into the bag before tying it up and walking alongside Theodore, Ginny and Hermione. "I don't really sound like my dad, do I?" he asked the two, sounding a little doubtful in his own question.
The three both shook their heads robotically in sync, but it went unnoticed by the redhead, who sighed in relief. Theodore didn't understand why Ron was against being like Mr Weasley when it came to anything Muggle-related. Sure, Mr Weasley wasn't exactly 'up there' in the Ministry, but it was still something. Even when it came down to his best friends, him, Harry and Hermione were all raised by Muggles as well, a thought Theodore now wondered if it had anything to do with Ron's sudden change. Oh well, it was just a thought.
Coming back on the way they came, Theodore almost didn't realise that they spent so much time down in St Catchpole that an orange hue across the sky was slowly starting to spread all over. They only went for ice cream and a corny magician's act; how did the day pass by so quickly? Maybe he was right about it all going so fast for him. Sirius's trial was nearly a month away but felt like it was just hours in front of him. Then it would be back to Hogwarts with everyone probably praising him everywhere, or where he would see his godfather again…
'From Sirius to Sna— 'him', your head's not properly screwed on, Theo. Too much stuff going on when it's Harry's birthday. I wonder if he's here…'
The six teens then reached the broken gate and started on the dirt-road pathway back to the Burrow with Theodore falling behind just a little so that he could take out the Snitch to look at it closer. On the bottom side of the dead Snitch, just below the roots of its wings were crude etchings of initials possibly made by a small knife.
"J.P. and L.E. … James Potter and Lily…?" Theodore gave up quite easily in guessing his aunt's maiden name. Surely Harry would know it anyway with him living with Lily's sister. Theodore rolled the ball in his hand over and over again to see if there were any other markings worth acknowledging but slipped it back in his pocket when he could find none and when he heard his name being called from the others up ahead.
Theodore strode hastily along the pathway to catch up with Hermione and Ron, whom both fell back with something clearly on their minds. "Did you guys get anything for Harry?" asked the Parselmouth, quickly looking up to see the towering Burrow getting closer.
"I was going to get him a Sneakoscope, but I already gave him one last year," said Ron. He went through his back pocket and took out an emerald amulet in the shape of a phoenix which he dangled proudly in the other two's faces. "So I made him this instead. I mean, Mum helped just a bit, but it was all my idea. Harry's wand has got a phoenix feather as a core, and it's green like a holly leaf."
"So it's not green because of Harry's eyes?" Hermione wondered after getting a closer look.
"On second thought —"
"Your present's fine, Ron, don't worry about it. I got Harry a golden Hippogriff quill that I bought a day before I got here. Although I should have gotten the eagle one, it was so much prettier… What did you get, Theo?"
Theodore held up the Snitch in front of them and quickly explained how it was Harry's dad's before they questioned him about returning Harry's gift. "It even has his parents' initials on it, look. James Potter and Lily E. or something."
As they reached the other end of the wheat field, Hermione was enthused by Theodore's present choice and took it to get a closer look for herself. "Aww, how sweet is that? They must've really loved each other."
"Yep, I think I've got you guys beat in this," bragged the Parselmouth with a cocky smile, taking back the Snitch at the same time ignoring their sudden frowns.
"It's not a competition, Theo, it's about — Harry!" exclaimed Ron.
Harry was standing midway of the front doorway, just about to slip through after Mr Weasley when he stopped and turned at the calling of his name. He grinned at his three best friends rushing up to the porch at the same time wishing him a happy birthday all in a disjointed chorus. "Thanks, guys, really! Where did you guys come from anyway?"
"We just came back from the town nearby," said Ginny quickly before Ron could say anything. "Happy birthday, Harry."
"Thanks, Ginny," he replied with a grin, sending just a slight scarlet tinge in her cheeks. "Hey, Fred, George."
"What's up, kid? Had enough of those git Muggles? You know, you could've sent a direct complaint about them to us. We've been making 'stuff' that could've helped you out," Fred began with an arm around his shoulder.
"That's right. There's this thing, you see, called Gnome Putty, and —"
"All right, that's enough," Hermione announced as she held her arms out to force them through the front door. "You shouldn't be thinking about using that stuff on unsuspecting Muggles."
"Don't worry about it, Hermione," George waved aside, "we're already perfecting it as we speak. We know it's easy to wash out of your hair —"
"No, it's not."
"And that it is what we want to hear: we need feedback if we're going to make this work."
"And what is 'this' exactly?" Theodore asked as the last one through the door.
Fred and George tapped their noses in a mirrored fashion and walked into the kitchen with Ginny following behind them. She gave a quick glance to Harry with something hidden in her left hand before she vanished into the next room.
"All right, me first!" Ron took out the amulet and handed it over to Harry, who widened his eyes from the departure of his normal gifts. "It's a phoenix because of your wand core, and it's green like holly. You like it?"
"Love it! Where did you get this?"
Ron rubbed his shoulder with a 'sheepish' grin and said, "Oh, I didn't buy it. Made it myself with a bit of my Mum's help, of course."
Harry gave the amulet a twirl in his fingers and looked at it before he tied it around his neck after giving it one last look of appreciation. "It's great, Ron. I definitely didn't expect something like this —"
"Mum wants all of us to come in the dining room, especially Harry," Ginny chirped from around the kitchen doorway.
Theodore sniffed the air and felt his mouth watering from the mixture of sweet and savoury in the air tempting him to rush to whatever was being served, but he kept himself under control.
Harry tucked his amulet under his shirt and led the way into the kitchen where a large banner reading 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY' with several Snitches and broomsticks decorated around '14' was hanging on the ceiling, a large three-layered cake similarly decorated sitting in the middle of the table with the Weasleys, Theodore and Hermione all surrounding Harry with grins ear to ear.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HARRY!" everybody sang in chorus without taking their eyes off of him. Harry stood silently with his cheeks turning mildly pink — Theodore noticed that they were sunken — and his hands patting his thighs. Once everyone had finished singing, Harry closed his eyes for a second and blew on the candles when the cake floated just close enough.
"Oh, Happy birthday, sweetheart!" trilled Mrs Weasley after summoning a knife to slice pieces for everyone. "Finally caught up with the others, how wonderful!"
"Thank you, Mrs Weasley."
"OK, now, everyone sit down so that we can all get slices. Make space because we're going to have dinner as well. Yes, George, I'm perfectly aware that we're having dessert before dinner." Mrs Weasley flicked her wand above the table to make the cake float high enough so that the various plates and dishes from the kitchen side of the room all came onto the table with extra chairs coming from the living room.
Theodore sat down between Hermione and Mr Weasley while Harry sat next to Ron and Charlie, who struck a conversation just like when Theodore arrived at the Burrow. Being the first real birthday party that he had ever been to, Theodore couldn't even imagine one better than this. To think that he almost preferred the Malfoys a few years ago.
"Are you seriously going to eat all of that?" Hermione asked as she stared at his piled plate.
"Are you seriously asking that question?"
Hermione rolled her eyes but slightly nudged him with her elbow before she started on her own food; Theodore's smile was masked by a mouthful of chicken, and he thumped his chest before getting down another forkful.
The dinner carried on for another hour, leading into the night as they talked and laughed as if they were all students back at Hogwarts. Mr and Mrs Weasley had given Harry a tin full of sweets from Honeydukes which Harry gladly accepted, noting that it felt heavier than it looked. The cakes then floated back down for anybody whose stomachs could fit anything else — Ron and Theodore were the only two capable of doing so — until they were moved away to where all the other unfinished food were. Theodore, Ron and Harry then, after helping to clear the kitchen up, left for the living room, feeling like their stomachs would explode at any second — Hermione quickly ran to Ginny's room to retrieve her gift for Harry.
"Theo, I don't know what to say…"
Theodore trudged over to the sofa opposite to the large fireplace and lazily slumped onto the ground in front of it whilst rubbing his stomach slowly. "'Thanks, Theo, you're the best'. Did you see what was written on there?"
Harry sat down on the sofa and turned the Snitch around to mutter his parents' first names, completely immersed by the ball that it didn't seem as if he knew where he was. "Where d'you find it?" he asked after a minute of pure silence.
"I found it in my mum's house when I went there just before I came here, and it was in your dad's room. Harry, you should've seen it, it was huge! There was this broomstick, loads of Gryffindor stuff, and I saw this pile of parchments that looked like the Marauder's Map. And that was only his room!"
"Wow…" Harry muttered, brushing his thumb over the initials with extra care not to break the wings off.
Hermione entered the room swiftly with an elegant, large golden quill that shimmered at every tilt in her hands as she held it out for Harry to take. "Is it too fancy? I don't think anybody has it at school."
"I don't think anybody uses this for anything other than to put it on display. It's really nice, though, Hermione, thanks. What's it made out of?"
"It's a Hippogriff feather," she remarked proudly, shooting a look at Ron and Theodore at the sofa with her arms crossed a bit. "Hopefully this year, you'll use it to write your own notes instead of mine."
"Fine. I'll just get help from Theodore instead. Ain't that right, Theo?" Theodore masked a burp with his fist and held a thumbs up before rubbing his stomach again. "So what else did you see over in Elmbridge besides the bedroom? I can't imagine that nothing else was interesting."
Theodore sat up properly and aligned his back against the footrest of the sofa as the others sat on the sofa waiting eagerly for whatever he had to say. He recounted how the rusted, fenced door had been entangled in vines that were charmed to prevent Muggles from getting through, even if they had a key; he described the outside of the house in vivid detail from the pools of pebbles to the giant oak trees on either side of the house, the floating chandelier when he first entered, the living room with the surely magical fireplace and his mother's and uncle's respective rooms. Theodore felt tiredness washing over him again and again but carried on speaking for their sakes.
"…and guess what was the craziest thing that I saw on that day? This flipping house-elf comes out of nowhere and decides to attack me when all of a sudden, I tell it to shut up and it does! Then it goes on about my mum being its mistress, so —"
"You own a house-elf?!" Ron asked, open-mouthed and in utter shock.
Theodore scratched his head in thought and replied, "Well, I don't know if I really own it. She kept quiet when I told her to, and she also disappeared when I told her to as well. Maybe it's a family thing?"
"Of course, it's a family thing," Ron exulted with a kind of madness in his eyes. "House-elves serve every generation of the family that they're linked to!"
"Serve?" said Hermione in an unsure tone. "What do you mean by 'serve'?"
"House-elves are sort of like servants for wizarding families who've got loads of money, you see? I thought that you knew this with all the reading that you do."
Hermione turned to Theodore, still looking dubious at the concept of owning a house-elf. "You're not going to make her your slave, are you, Theodore?"
"Why would I —?"
"They're not slaves, Hermione, at least, not really," Ron cut in just a little haughtily. "House-elves like to work for wizards, they just do. Theo and Harry's family most likely knew the elf, and I doubt they treated it like a 'slave'."
"She was happy to see me," added Theodore, "a little too happy, I think. She called me 'Master Theodore' and said that I finally came home. Anyway, from the sound of her, she must've loved my mum because she was sobbing all over the place when she saw me. I'm with Ron, I don't think she was anything like a slave."
Hermione huffed out of her nose a little and leaned back onto the sofa, looking up at the ceiling with paper cats chasing paper rats. "It still sounds odd to me. Harry said that Dobby hated working for the Malfoys and couldn't wait to be freed. It just sounds off."
"Since you're its master, that means you can summon it whenever you like," said Ron, ignoring Theodore's question as he couldn't contain his excitement. "Go on then! Call it!"
"I don't know how to summon an elf," Theodore shrugged.
"You just say its name and it'll come, no matter what it's doing. Try!"
"Umm… I don't think I caught her name," muttered Theodore sheepishly. "Twammy, uh, Tibby? No… Tiggy! I swear it was Tiggy…! Give me a break, Ron, she was about to attack me with a brush, and she had to hide before my friend could see her."
Ron threw his hands up and slumped back on the sofa like Hermione. "But you remember everything! How could you forget something like a house-elf who's in your own family house? I wouldn't!"
Something perked up in his mind the second he heard 'family house' and surprisingly found the words easily slipping out from his mouth as he said, "Speaking of family houses, that's probably not the only one that I come from."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"The man who I went with to Elmbridge, my friend's dad, works with all this house estate stuff all over the country. Long story short… I think he found my family. My other family."
"Wait, you mean the Riddles? Like… your dad's family?"
Theodore nodded a little at Ron, understanding the lack of comfortability at the thought. "Apparently, they had a manor in someplace called Little Hangleton. And, according to the man I went with, something horrible happened to them, like a tragedy. He didn't tell me what happened, even when I asked him. They're all probably dead from the sounds of it." Theodore looked up at their faces and saw that they were all a little disturbed from what he revealed. "Sorry, guys. I didn't mean to get all dark and stuff."
Ron smiled just a little bit and said, "It's cool, man, anything to do with You-Know-Who would get a bit creepy, especially his family. So are you sure that it's them, your family?"
Theodore shrugged again and tried to shove the subject to the side, claiming that he couldn't care less about the family that never knew of his existence. But Hermione, once again never backing down from anything to do with his family, thought differently. "Maybe they'll be in wizarding records instead. You never know, Theo, since your dad was a half-blood, there could've been a wizarding family nearby…"
"Hermione, seriously, I really don't care about who the Riddles were," insisted Theodore, who stood up to stretch and face the others. "They're probably as demented as my dad. Maybe they went mad and killed each other off."
"Theo, don't say that," she returned with a very slight hint of pity in her eyes. "This could be a chance to know which wizarding family you're from."
"I'm from the Potters, now leave it, Hermione."
"I meant from your dad's side."
"Hermione, drop it," Theodore spoke sternly. "I don't care about him; I don't care about the Riddles. They're gone and this conversation is over, so if you —"
"HE DOESN'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, HERMIONE. IT'S BAD ENOUGH THAT HE'S GOT 'HIM' AS A DAD…"
"Disloyalty among us… the boy… I need… the boy…"
Harry grunted loudly in pain and slapped his forehead where his scar was, while Theodore nearly staggered onto the ground, feeling the world around him tremble violently yet at the same time feeling completely weightless. He didn't know if he had smacked his head against the ground as there was no pang or the sound of blood rushing everywhere. No, the overwhelming sounds that sounded like serene screams exploded in nearly every corner of his mind, and that cold, high voice that sounded so similar to his father rang shrilly in his ears.
Theodore felt a soft pair of hands on his wrist and neck as they supported him up into a seating position where his dizziness subsided quickly enough. Hermione's face was rather close to his own, so close that Theodore could see each eyelash that fluttered from the girl's frantic blinking. And from there he could sense immense worry and care, deep, deep care that could only —
"Theo, why did you fall on the ground?" Hermione asked in slight agitation when he rubbed his forehead in the same fashion as Harry. "Ron, how's Harry?"
"I'm fine," assured Harry. His hand, however, was still stuck on his scar. "Just my scar, that's all. What happened to you?"
Theodore got onto his feet with caution and found his balance. "I don't know. Maybe I just ate too much…" he lied. "I'm tired anyway. I really did eat too much."
Ron yawned in agreement but kept his eyes close on both of the Parselmouths when their hands were finally removed from their heads. Mrs Weasley came into the living room and told them to get to bed early so that they could go across the other side of the wheat field and past the meadow the next morning.
Harry was the first one up the stairs, Ron, then Theodore, and at the back was Hermione, who stopped by Ginny's door and tugged at Theodore's sleeve to ask him if he was OK before saying goodnight and slipping into the room.
Theodore then turned and walked up the stairs and tried to relive what had suddenly happened out of nowhere for no reason. He heard Ron's voice that sounded like two megaphones were lodged into his ears so clearly when he, for a moment, looked straight in his eyes, and when he looked at Harry's, he heard his father's voice, weak and tired, sour and foul, along with the sharpest yet most rapid sense of pain above his right eye. Then it was Hermione, emotions nearly staggering, almost just like Louise…
First, it was just getting glimpses of whether people were lying or not, then it was merely sensing what they could feel. But now, all of sudden, he could hear his friend's voice in his head, he could feel whatever Harry was feeling, and he could see how much affection Hermione had for him? This wasn't normal, it couldn't be. Nobody should be able to hear other people's thoughts and feel their emotions; how could he?
Upon entering Ron's room where Ron himself bellyflopped onto his bed, Fred and George huddled in another corner of the room, and Harry moving his trunk next to Theodore's with Hedwig away from Sawer, Theodore was for once in a long time, absolutely clueless about himself. Was mind-reading truly real? Evidently, it was: Dumbledore gave the impression that he always knew something about Theodore without talking, and Professor Snape —
'How could I forget that? He somehow allowed me to understand what he was feeling before I was completely blocked off: he has to know what the hell's going on with me! Harry writes to Sirius whenever he has a problem, so maybe I should write as well. He wouldn't mind, would he…? Of course, he won't. I hope he won't…'
"And in these dreams, it feels like you're out of your body?" whispered Theodore to Harry after the Weasley brothers finally dozed off in their sleeping bags. Both of the cousins had decided to wake up in the middle of the night, both to discuss what they had briefly touched upon in their exchange of letters.
"Like I'm someone else. Like I'm in Voldemort's body, but it's not mine and it's definitely not his."
"What do you mean? Wait, does he have his own body?"
Harry sat up slightly and poked his fingers into his temples, thinking so hard to recollect whatever happened in his dream. "He… he kept going on about how his body won't last and how it's decaying. He saw a picture of a small boy and started to feel happy about something… It's so hard to remember."
"Try to remember something else," goaded Theodore, now sitting up as well. "What else did he say, why was he happy about seeing a small boy?"
"I don't know, Theo. It all just slips away so quickly. It's even worse than normal dreams. Sometimes, it's like those ones where he's walking around slowly, staring at people, places and stuff. And the others, it's almost like he's flying, moving around so quickly with his wand in his hand."
Theodore pondered for a second. "Maybe he's thinking about the past," he suggested. "He hasn't got a body, so he's thinking back to when he had one, his own one."
Harry rubbed his scar again and looked over at the trunks blankly, despite the discomfort that was occurring on his forehead. "Did you break the wand?"
"No… I was planning on giving it to Ollivander or Dumbledore, seeing as how they both know about it. Hate having it near me, especially when it's inside my trunk."
"Maybe you should've broken it, though. He used that to —"
"Hold on, I need to go to the toilet really quickly. I'll be back in a minute." Theodore crawled out of his sleeping bag and left the room silently, being careful not to wake anybody else from the creaky floorboards. He remained on the edge of the staircase were it most sturdy and continued downwards until he reached the ground floor. The toilet was obscured by golden drapes resembling something straight out of Gryffindor Common Room, and it was required to shift it to the side, a risky task on its own.
"… it's all right, darling. We'll be here every single night if we have to. It's all right, sweetheart." Mrs Weasley's voice barely veiled the sniffling that emanated from the dark living room; she continued to coo at whoever was clearly crying.
Theodore's need for the toilet started to die as he stepped closer and closer to the doorway of the living room, making sure that not a single breath could be heard from him.
"Molly, we can't let her carry on like this. It's been a year, for Merlin's sake," whispered Mr Weasley's voice. "Now, I know that you're not all for it, but the Healers at St Mungo's —"
"Ginny's not mad, Arthur!"
"And I know that. But we're not doing her any good by keeping her grounded here. Hugs and kisses at nighttime can only go so far, Molly, even you know that. What's that, sweetheart?"
"Ginny, please speak up."
"I want to talk to Theodore…"
"Oh, darling, Theodore must be sleeping right now. You surely don't want to wake him up when it's this late, do you?"
"But he's standing right over there…" mumbled Ginny in the darkness.
Theodore stepped backwards quickly, causing the floorboard to give off a creak too loud to ignore. He heard Mr Weasley mutter an incantation under his breath and the lamps suddenly filled the room with light, showing the faces of Mr and Mrs Weasley huddling around Ginny in a tight embrace. Ginny's face was a stark contrast to her usual demeanour, almost looking like a completely different person. Her eyes red and slightly puffy, and her numerous freckles seemed to be fading, despite the light reaching everywhere.
"I'm sorry," started Theodore as he backed away slowly. "I didn't mean to interrupt you, I was just looking for the toilet."
"It's fine, Theodore," said Mrs Weasley, giving her husband and daughter a slight squeeze. "We'll see you in the morning. Good—"
"Actually, Theodore, we wouldn't mind if you would stay."
Mrs Weasley whipped her head around to Mr Weasley and scrunched her face into a displeasing scowl and almost snapped in a harsh whisper, "Let him go to sleep, Arthur, he's a child! He doesn't have anything to do with this!"
"But he does. If anyone in the world has anything to do with this, Molly, then it's Theodore! You weren't there when it happened, I wasn't there when it happened, but he was. He's a mature, young man who possibly understands this more than we do."
Theodore halted in his steps and moved forwards again in the doorframe, catching on by just a little bit but still mostly unsure. "Does Ginny want to talk to me?"
Mr Weasley nodded his head and turned to his wife, who looked down at Ginny as if she were ill. She sighed, looked up at the Parselmouth and dipped her head just a little bit. "Come on, Molly. They'll be fine, they're in no danger. Let's go to bed, shall we?"
They both kissed Ginny goodnight and passed by Theodore, Mr Weasley simply nodding his head and Mrs Weasley giving him a sad smile. Theodore watched them trudge up the stairs until they finally became creaky echoes and it was just Theodore and Ginny left alone.
Theodore wandered over to the sofa and sat next to Ginny, now understanding why she wanted to talk to him alone. She continuously moved her long plait from shoulder to shoulder and tapped her bare feet against the ground: she didn't seem like Ginny at all. Everything about her at that moment wasn't her.
"You're still having nightmares?" he asked finally.
"It's been happening more recently," Ginny croaked before clearing her throat. "I get that same… lightheadedness every time I go to sleep. Like I'm suddenly going to walk out of bed without knowing it and doing something horrible."
"I understand how you feel, Ginny, I really do. There was a time when I felt completely helpless and when I wasn't in control of myself. I'd go to sleep one night, the next morning I was down in the Chamber. I had to climb up that pipe every morning until my fingers went numb, and sometimes I wouldn't try to leave."
"But I don't know why it always just comes and goes, Theo. I can still hear him hissing in my ear and telling me to do things I wouldn't dream of doing. It's always just hissing…" Ginny shivered a little and crossed her arms tightly.
He almost didn't know what to say. It didn't even last a whole year for him, the torment from his father's Horcrux. Yet Ginny was still suffering, probably more than he had. What could he say? Theodore raised his hand and held her lightly on her shoulder and spoke in the most reassuring voice that he could muster, "It will get better, Ginny. I know — I saw the worst of that diary, but I rarely feel anything from it. Eventually, it'll just be in the past as nothing to remember. I promise you, it'll get better —"
"It won't," she said almost snappishly, but she held back instantly afterwards.
"You don't know that, Ginny. Or maybe you do and you just don't realise it."
Ginny released her hold of herself and lifted her head just slightly to show her detached expression that did not belong to her. "How do you know that it'll get better for me, Theodore? Just because it was easy for you?"
"I… yeah. If I can move on, then you can too. It's all about trying to forget and —"
"You can't just forget when he leaves you with… 'this'! You can't…" Ginny snapped again before covering her mouth quickly and squeezing her lips as she shook her head slowly.
Theodore thought himself stupid for not understanding straight away, but it wasn't his fault. It was messy, heavily garbled and almost incoherent, but in the end, he understood. Her sudden fondness to Viripin, her knowing the things he'd say that she shouldn't have understood… all of it.
"Ginny… you're… you're a Parselmouth…"
'She can speak Parseltongue… how can she speak Parseltongue…?'
For the following weeks, those nine words had been repeated in Theodore's mind until they carved into his subconscious, always an echo in the corners of his brain. Theodore almost couldn't comprehend the truth that Ginny, Ginny Weasley, was a Parselmouth just like him and Harry. It had been a full year since the whole Chamber of Secrets incident, but she never gave him any hint that she could speak Parseltongue. Maybe he just couldn't tell; maybe he was too engrossed with himself to really care: a lot did happen last year in his defence. With Sirius, his mother and Snape, how could he focus on Ginny at all — he felt a very slight twinge of his uniqueness faltering when he reminded himself that she was also a Parselmouth.
'Still having nightmares is one thing, but speaking Parseltongue as well? Horcruxes keep you from dying, they don't let you speak Parseltongue… maybe I should try again…'
Theodore was sat on his sleeping bag, despite it being late in the afternoon of mid-August. He never expected the summer to be nearly over so quickly. Two weeks left before school would start again, one week before Sirius's trial — Harry's birthday was only just yesterday, wasn't it? It didn't help when they would do anything fun either: Theodore would sometimes lose focus on what he intended to do to at least help Ginny, which was immensely difficult as well, not because she'd refuse (it was quite the opposite), but because he couldn't do it himself.
He looked carefully at the door to make sure that nobody was present before he would open his trunk. Not hearing a noise from behind the door, besides the ghoul right above him, Theodore flicked it open and stuck his hand through his folded clothes, stopping only when he felt cracked leather and grabbed onto the book that he was reluctant to even possess: Secrets of the Darkest Arts, the only thing that could give him some sort of answer.
But that was the 'immensely difficult' part, actually reading it — it was not for a lack of trying. No matter where he'd be, inside the house, or in the garden or back in St Catchpole, Theodore could never be alone with the book without there being somebody close by. The most that he could get out of it was the horrific spell and nothing further. He could only go on with guesses and speculation, but it was truly irksome to his soul not being able to be alone with his thoughts; he'd never express it to anybody, though.
'Magic… magic sometimes leaves traces, just like the diary did to me. I mean, my eyes turn red every time I feel mad, and I was almost ready to kill Sirius… Maybe I wasn't affected as much because I was already a Parselmouth, but it was still a Horcrux. It was trying to leech, no, bond to my soul like a parasite, and it was probably doing the same to Ginny. That's… that's why she can speak Parseltongue… it has to be it… has to be…'
The knocking on the door, followed by the calling of his name, made him quickly slide the Dark book back under the clothes and firmly shut the trunk before he saw Percy's head sticking through the doorway wearing a navy-blue, pointed hat. "Theodore, the Minister for Magic is downstairs along with the Head of Magical Creatures."
"Fudge is here, downstairs?" said Theodore, mildly shocked. "Who's the Head of — he's here as well?"
"I'm assuming that you're referring to Mr Lestrange. Yes, he's also downstairs with the Minister, along with Rita Skeeter. Mother seems quite happy for her to be here. Aren't you coming downstairs, I'm certain that they're here to talk about the upcoming trial."
Theodore pushed the trunk back into the corner and walked over to the door, pushing his theory on Horcruxes aside for later. As he closed the door behind him, he said, "That's all everybody talks about these days. Hey, Percy, how's it like in the Ministry? Working there, I mean."
"Extremely busy, but I already knew that beforehand," replied Percy as he fixed his glasses on his long nose. "In all honesty, I think that you would enjoy working there. Mr Lestrange and the Minister speak quite highly of you, even Mr Crouch mentions you times to times."
"Oh… that's cool, I guess. Well, I'm going to see what they're here for now. See you later, Percy."
Percy tipped his hat and reached into his matching robes for a thick collection of documents until there was a loud crack with Theodore being the only one left in the corridor.
Theodore then went down the stairs without trying to lose his train of thought, albeit, it was already lost the second Percy knocked on the door. He could go back up and take the book out again, but what was stopping anyone else from interrupting him further? It was even riskier considering that the others wouldn't knock and that he wouldn't be fast enough to hide it in his trunk. For another time, a time that had to be very soon.
He reached the threshold of the kitchen, expecting to see the others who had all dispersed for some strange reason, but his expectations were not met at all. Three adults were sitting at the far end of the long table with Mrs Weasley standing next to a fuming kettle with a smile brighter than any Theodore had ever seen from her.
Fudge had a cup of tea twirling magically in the air, and his iconic lime-green bowler hat was sat on the chair next to him, showing his slightly dishevelled grey hair.
Sitting opposite to the Minister was Rita Skeeter wearing a set of dazzling green robes with leopard-spotted fur that came up to her jaw as she tapped her long fingernails against the table with her other hand inching slowly to her handbag.
And finally, clad in expensive black robes with golden trimmings, his hair stylish as ever with the single curl and silver cane propped up against the edge of the table was Theodore Lestrange giving the impression that he was a relic of a statue, not even lifting his brow when speaking.
"It's getting closer and closer, Molly," stated Fudge, taking a sip of his tea before continuing, "just a week away. How time flies, isn't that right, Theodore?"
Lestrange gave a soft grunt. "I don't think it could have gotten any slower. Pettigrew's been in Ministry holding for far too long now, and Black's mental reconditioning is running at a similar pace. I don't know why you're so reluctant to just throw Pettigrew into Azkaban for life and let Black live as a free man."
"Sirius was a victim of the poor judgment system, Theodore," said Fudge matter-of-factly. "Just sending Pettigrew to Azkaban without a proper trial would just show that we didn't learn from our mistakes."
"Barty Crouch's mistake."
"Rita, let's not point fingers at each other. We know what he did, but it's in the past now. You gave him a rough time in the Prophet as well, including us and Albus."
Rita shrugged and started to tap against her handbag instead. "It's all about the sales, dear Cornelius. The more the people are aware of this, the better it is for everyone to move on when it's all over."
Fudge and Lestrange gave stares of annoyance over at Rita but simply tilted their heads up before Fudge turned to Mrs Weasley. "I'm sure that you're proud of your son, eh, Molly? Your husband's been talking about him ever since!"
"Never prouder! Ron always talked about catching Dark wizards when he was younger, and it's a nice change of pace from his older brothers, wanting to become an Auror. At least, I'm sure that's what he wants to do."
"Good to know that we've got a capable generation to hand things over to when we're done," said Fudge brightly, taking a longer sip of his tea before it floated back down on the table. "Molly, have you seen Theodore anywhere? We already discussed briefly the basic matters of next week with your son, Harry and Miss Granger, but not him. He is here, isn't he?"
Mrs Weasley's eyes grew wide for just a second before her equally wide smile nearly took over her face as she replied, "Theodore's here, most likely upstairs at the moment. He's been quite… occupied with himself lately. Ron always told me that he'd sometimes prefer being alone in the corner of the room, figuratively speaking, of course."
Theodore was about to turn around and try to find where the others had left to but should've known that any movement too swift at the doorway would instantly be noticed by the conversing adults, Rita in particular. "There he is, the main man of the papers! Well, don't be shy, come in!"
He clamped his teeth in self-annoyance for not being more careful. Throwing on a fake smile and turning on his heels, Theodore walked into the kitchen and stood at the end of the table, upright and unshaken. "Hello," he simply said to all of them.
"Afternoon. Feeling nervous about next week?" Fudge asked after shaking his hand firmly.
"Not really, no. Well, I can't be too certain, I've never been to a trial before."
"It's all standard, Theodore, nothing out of the ordinary. At least, it's not so dissimilar from the Muggle courts. A lot of people are curious about what's going to happen, even if the outcome is fairly obvious. And they happen to be familiar with your name as well."
"I've heard," acknowledged the Parselmouth with the slightest glare pointing towards Rita. "Mr Fudge, about that, I was thinking that maybe it's all a little too much for me, you know, seeing my name in the Prophet every single time."
Fudge blinked and swallowed a little harshly. "Of course! Of course, I understand, you're still a child after all. It's just that the community… well, the community wants to know that if anything has happened from the First War, good or bad, then a name would come out of it."
Theodore held back the urge to glower at him and looked at the Minister and Rita, saying, "But you do know that it wasn't just me? I've been trying to tell everyone that it was all four of us, but it seems as if nobody's listening to me when —"
"The boy just wants the credit to go where it deserves, Cornelius," Lestrange interjected, scrunching his fist upon the table. "Unless I am mistaken…?"
The Parselmouth's left eye ticked, so quickly irritated that he was interrupted by him, but his appearance on the surface was still calm as he gave a small nod.
"Then I understand entirely, Theodore. We'll make sure that the Prophet won't blow anything out of proportion," Fudge promised. Another glare at Rita, who finally noticed and held onto her handbag tightly and her jaw even tighter. "Molly, may I use your fireplace to contact somebody — thank you."
Theodore moved out of the way to allow the portly man through and stepped backwards where the kitchen, living room and front doorway were conjoined. He didn't see any reason to talk any further when Fudge was occupied with something else: Lestrange would probably want to tell him how he looked so much like his father for the fifth time, and Rita would just insist on making an interview date. If only he knew where the others went — he saw them last when he —
"There he is! I told you that I heard him go downstairs, but you didn't listen to me!"
Ginny's small frame came bouncing down with Ron following closely behind, Hermione next, then Harry as the last one. At first, Theodore thought that slumped along their right shoulders was a lengthy bit of vivid green tinsel until he realised that it was just Viripin instead being lifted like royalty. Was she really this long now?
"We were going to call you to say that Fudge was here, but Mum told us to stay put and leave you be. Did something happen to you upstairs?"
"I was just reading about something," said Theodore.
"You've been going in different places around the house a lot recently, though," reminded Hermione as she shifted part of Viripin's body on her other shoulder. "You're having your moments again."
"Yes, Theodore, your 'moments'," hissed Viripin with her head poised closer to his chest. "Whenever you're quiet for too long, it's either scheming or brooding for you."
"I don't brood! I haven't been —!"
"— moments like when you're planning something in secret or when you don't want to talk to anybody for reasons we have to squeeze out of you…" Hermione spoke over the quick exchange of hissing. "Oh, were you two talking?"
Viripin pulled her head back away and shuddered her lower jaw with her chrome eyes fixed on Theodore: he knew this as a sign to expect a snarky remark. "Look at that, she knows you like the back of her hand. If she isn't the perfect girl for you…"
"What? You technically admitted that you like her —"
"Viripin!" Harry bit his lip to stop himself from breaking into a large grin while Ginny's face turned pink and Theodore's almost a shade similar. Hermione and Ron both stared at each other in confusion but threw it aside, assuming that it was just the usual back and forth between them. "Just go off wherever you're going! Where are you guys going anyway?"
"We're going outside to fly around with Viripin. I didn't know that she could turn into a Hippogriff," said Ginny admirably.
"How d'you know that?" asked Ron.
"Uh — T-Theo told me when I asked! Yeah… Anyway, you should come with us, it'll be fun. You're already getting better on the broom."
"That's a terrible observation; I nearly fell off the last time — I'd rather stay inside instead. I'm… helping Mrs Weasley with something."
'There could be damage to your soul, but you want to go flying on Viripin's back. Ginny, what do you expect me to do? Like you can talk, Theodore: your soul's probably ruined from what you did to Quirrell… whatever that ripping feeling was —'
"Ow! Why d'you hit me for —?!"
Theodore followed Harry's stare behind him, and he suddenly felt something uncomfortably off prickling against his neck. He twisted his head around and was suddenly face to face with Lestrange, who decided that sitting in the kitchen was becoming too tedious to tolerate — Theodore remembered him being taller a few months ago.
"Sorry to be a bother, but may I talk with Theodore for a moment?"
"We were just about to —" started Theodore.
"Just a moment of your time. I promise you, it won't be long. You'll join your friends soon," he assured calmly, attempting to smile that came across as an odd sneer instead.
The others quietly told Theodore that they would be outside waiting for him if he decided to follow after them and left with Viripin through the front door. Theodore breathed through his nose noisily, hoping that Lestrange would take it as a sign that he didn't want to talk at all, but he seemed more eager to speak as a result.
"It's all right, I'll keep it brief. I know that you're itching to run from this conversation."
"I'm not running," returned the boy flatly — he suddenly lifted his demeanour and thought that it was needless to be difficult. "I've already said everything I wanted to about the trial back there."
"Trust me, Theodore, I too have grown quite jaded over every discussion left and right. I can see that it's the same for you or rather, it's similar. No, I wanted to inform you of this." Lestrange twisted his fingers together and summoned an elegant, matte-black envelope that matched his robes. He then stretched his hand out and passed it over to the Parselmouth.
The golden insignia on the front displayed a ring with a stylised 'M' in the middle and the words 'Ministry of Magic' circling around them. Theodore thought of asking what was inside, but his fingers were already far ahead as they unfolded the envelope and slipped the letter out to read it carefully.
ADMISSION FOR JUNIOR-APPRENTICESHIP
We are pleased and honoured to offer you an opportunity for a junior-apprenticeship at the Ministry of Magic under a Head official of a Department and/or Minister for Magic. Your skills, talent and reputation have been recognised as the standard for this program, and we hope that you will not disregard this chance for a pathway to a successful career in the future.
Institution of Education: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Signature of recipient:
Signature of recommender: Theodore Raphius Lestrange
Signature of Chief Administrator of Institution: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore O.M. (First Class)
Theodore scanned the short document one final time and looked up. "Dumbledore already signed this? When? Why?"
"When, just three days ago. Why, well, it's fairly obvious. The man thinks of you highly, Theodore. It's his job to want his students to flourish as much as they can."
Didn't Dumbledore ever ponder on the connection Lestrange had with his father? If he taught Tom, then he definitely taught Lestrange as well, and if that was so, Theodore was yet again alone with another of Voldemort's followers. Lucius Malfoy was another case, a wealthy pureblood who avoided Azkaban somehow; Theodore had his suspicions about his father's schoolfriend for an extensive amount of time now.
"Won't I have school at the same time? I can't do an apprenticeship throughout the whole of next year."
"You won't have to," addressed the older man whilst fitting his collar. "You're still too young to start but not far off. Fifteen is the youngest that we can allow."
"And… I'll do what exactly?" Theodore asked with curiosity he couldn't contain; the idea of possibly joining the Ministry before he'd finish Hogwarts could be incredibly useful in the future. He wasn't an idiot to pass it up. Although…
"That will be shown should you accept. You have plenty of time to consider, although, I will advise you to choose wisely." He grazed his pale thumb over his eyebrows and continued. "The Ministry already missed out on one Riddle, and they don't want to lose a second. Of course, how could they ever know…?"
"Goodbye and thank you, Mr Lestrange," Theodore said flatly. "I'll… think about it." Theodore pocketed the letter and robotically shook hands with the questionable wizard before he aimed towards the front, not wanting to give Rita a chance to jump out at him.
The Parselmouth froze when his fingertips just skimmed the handle.
"You don't happen to still have that wand in your possession, do you?"
Theodore shook his head and left through the door without looking back or a single word being spoken. He carefully avoided the boots and kettles amongst each other and closed the door firmly behind him. 'It's not your wand, so why does it matter?'
His attention was instantly drawn to the sounds of joyous screams and thunderous screeching coming from the garden where a rapid shadowing figure in the air was beating its large wings under the sun, diving so suddenly and disappearing over to the other side of the Burrow.
Theodore saw Ron and Hermione on ground level twirling in their spots when he arrived near the edge of the stone wall. Up in the air holding tightly onto a golden Hippogriff was Harry gripping Viripin's neck and Ginny's hair thrashing wildly behind him as a large grin was plastered on her face. Viripin took another breakneck dive; Ginny clutched tightly to Harry with her smile only getting wider from the sheer thrill.
"They're having fun," announced Theodore. "How come they're both doing it together?"
Ron and Hermione dropped their heads and rubbed their painfully sore necks but grinned at Theodore as Hermione spoke first. "So you were coming!" she exclaimed as if it was by her doing that he arrived. "Harry said that Viripin said that she could carry two people at a time. Ginny wanted to go first, Ron wanted to go on his own, and I don't want to go just yet. Harry said he would go with her, for some reason…"
"Sure. Some reason." 'Two can play at this game, Harry.' "I'll watch you guys from over there where no broomsticks can crash into me."
"But Viripin belongs to you, Theo. How can you not want to fly when she can turn into nearly anything you want her to be?"
Theodore stepped over the roots under the tree and found a comfortable patch of soft grass. "Just a stupid childhood fear, Ron. Look, Harry and Ginny are coming down now."
Hermione looked behind and watched Ron sprinting over to the others before she turned back around and tilted her head to the side, softening her face almost in a pleading manner. Theodore felt something juddering in his throat and shook his head — he couldn't stop smiling at her though. She sighed and walked away from where Ginny was petting Viripin's head as Ron was trying to mount himself on her back.
Theodore couldn't pinpoint where his focus needed to be. He'd always think on subjects to their extremities but could never really balance everything perfectly in his head without favouring one out of many. Sirius and Pettigrew being on trial, Harry's scar and nightmares, whatever the hell that's happening in his head, and Ginny being an actual Parselmouth: it felt like more was being piled onto him every single passing moment. Even the Riddles would cross his mind more times than he ever hoped for. The Riddles and whatever wizarding family that decided to produce the evillest wizard known to wizardkind —
"Hermione and Viripin were right, I do brood… shit."
A chorus of exhilarating screams and shouts were thrown about in the air as Viripin took off again, this time with Ron and Hermione on her back.
Should he…? No, definitely not. He'd pass out mid-air and would fall straight to the ground. But they were all doing it perfectly fine, even Hermione, who also wasn't big on heights. But it was a crazy idea, a stupid idea that would only —
"There you go again, worrying like a pussy! Grow a pair," he scolded at himself. He gripped at his jeans and stared at the ground, waiting for that rush of energy and confidence that would sweep him off his feet and purge any fear inside of him… maybe it was… maybe…
He brought his knees to his chest and grumbled in self-disappointment. No way that he would become an Auror if he ever considered it. Theodore looked over his shoulder when he heard rapid footsteps approaching and swivelled his body around as Hermione came towards him, red-faced, out of breath and thoroughly ecstatic.
"Theo," she huffed on her knees, "you have to try it! I thought that I'd hate it, but Viripin's amazing in the air! She's brilliant at diving!"
"Hermione, I don't want to, OK? I'm fine just watching you guys having fun…"
"You're the last person here who Viripin would allow to be hurt. I'm sure that she'll go slow for you." She narrowed her eyes a little at him and quickly said, "Is it that wizard who's putting you off, your dad's friend?"
"What? No, not him, I — come on, Hermione. Can't I sit on the sidelines? There are loads of things to think about like the trial and…" His words suddenly trailed off when she took four hairbands from her pocket and scrunched her hair with her other hand to make a large, puffy ponytail.
"… and other things," he finished when she was done.
"The Ministry has to send Pettigrew to Azkaban for life after what he did. Honestly, Sirius is going to be fine and so are you. That's one less thing you have to worry about now, isn't it?"
"I guess…" Hermione suddenly appeared near his feet, eclipsing him slightly from her position as both of her hands were stretched out for him. "Hmm?"
"Come on! I'm not going away until you try to fly at least once."
"What if I don't try," Theodore asked puckishly.
"Well… it'll mean that I won't go away. Is that what you want, Riddle?" Hermione returned in a similar tone, her cheeks growing redder and redder.
Theodore took her soft hands and clambered slowly onto his feet; he couldn't tear away from her eyes at all. "Since when were you into daredevil antics?"
"Since… three minutes ago? Or should I say three years instead? So this means you'll try then?" Letting out an exasperated sigh, he rolled his eyes and lifted his head. "I knew that I could get to you. Ron said otherwise, but Harry and Ginny agreed with me —"
"Wait, what?" Theodore whipped his head over to Harry and Ginny to catch the quickest glimpse of them peering over at the two with the most conspicuous smiles on their faces. "Harry, you —"
"Ron! You already had a turn!"
Viripin and Ron were soaring above the house and over the wheat field that was splashed with orange from the sunset while Ginny stood on the drystone wall, vexed at her older brother for sneaking in another flight — Ron screamed happily at the top of his lungs without even noticing her.
'It does look fun… This is it. You're finally going to get rid of this stupid fear and be over it. Nobody likes a coward who's scared of —'
He still felt her soft hand warm in his left one. It didn't seem as if she noticed; Theodore looked at her from the corner of his eye to see no indication that she was focused on anything else other than Viripin and Ron. Maybe she hadn't noticed at all as he did. Theodore's face was starting to burn up, and he could feel that his heart was skipping beats as he casually brushed the back of her hand with his thumb and closed the small gap between them. Did she notice now?
The burning sensation travelled almost everywhere when she squeezed his hand gently, her other hand gripping his forearm and her head moving slowly to the side to rest on his shoulder. He wanted to know how she did it, how she made any troubling thoughts dwindle away by touch alone. But he already knew, and she knew him well enough. And a feeling, an odd feeling from nowhere, or somewhere he could never find, gave him the desire to hold her even closer, to have her against his chest so that he could take in the scent of her hair, hell, to have her face so close to his so that he could kiss — her… Kiss her…
Just a thought.
The next chapter is definitely going to be the last part of the summer (it's been really long, hasn't it?). It'll be the trial, possibly going to Diagon Alley but absolutely going back to Hogwarts. I think it's overdue now, but what can you do?
If you had any idea that Ginny could be a Parselmouth then give yourself a pat on the back. If not, then still give yourself a pat on the back for being surprised (I hope you were anyway).
Everything else that happened in this chapter I'll leave you to be alone with, but now, I'll see you later.
ImmortalGodd: I know I said I'd stop replying to reviews publicly, but there's really no reason for him to be 'cunning' at that moment with Louise. It would be worrying if he was scheming something 24/7 without showing that he doesn't know how to act with Louise after being separated for so long because he is still just a kid.